Seattle Sounders – Los Angeles FC: Ten Men Seattle Force Draw With Superb Defensive Performance
After a crazy start that saw both sides score goals, Seattle’s physical approach saw them reduced to ten men early on. The home side then put in a highly impressive defensive performance for well over an hour to close out the game.
Tactical analysis and match report by Siddharth Ramsundar.
The game presented a clash of two Western Conference heavyweights, and two of the MLS’ best teams this early season.
Heading into the game, the Sounders were third in the West and MLS overall with seventeen points in eight games. Favorites in most games, they had only lost once all season: the 4-1 defeat away to Los Angeles FC the previous weekend. They also fought back from two goals down to draw with San Jose Earthquakes midweek.
The Sounders ended up dealing with an extended treatment table. Forwards Raul Ruidíaz and Will Bruin, midfielder Víctor Rodríguez, center-back Chad Marshall, defensive midfielder Gustav Svensson and left back Nouhou were all out injured. Manager Brian Schmetzer set his team up in a classic 4-2-3-1 shape to start the game.
Los Angeles FC came into the game tied with LA Galaxy on 22 points. They also boasted a dominant plus eighteen goal difference to lead the league, and were heading into the game on a six game winning streak. Manager Bob Bradley sent his team out in a 4-3-3 shape.
Seattle too aggressive in eventful opening
The opening of the game saw both sides land on the scoresheet in a clash of styles.
LAFC insisted on playing it out of the back in possession, in spite of intense Seattle pressure. The home side pressed extremely high, closing down in the opposing half. This combination of approaches led to both goals. LAFC immediately conceded an early goal by gifting the ball over to Sounders forward Jordan Morris. LAFC then managed to quickly evade the press – in an impressive, fluid sequence – to score at the other end.
Despite a jittery opening, LAFC grew into the game by the quarter hour mark. Seattle’s high press proved increasingly sloppy, as they gave away fouls all over the pitch. The home side was almost needlessly physical, often frustrated and forced to go long in possession. The visitors’ players found small pockets of space to evade the press rather frequently.
Seattle’s frustrations culminated in Cristian Roldan’s red card after the quarter hour mark. The midfielder lashed out during an altercation, and was sent off after video review.
Nicolas Lodeiro was the main passing hub for Seattle Sounders.
LAFC struggle to create before half-time
With a one man advantage, it looked like the MLS’ strongest team could take over. LAFC looked remarkably fluid in buildup, as the central midfielders consistently sprayed passes out wide to progress the ball. They enjoyed more time on the ball and committed fewer mistakes.
Still, Seattle settled down into a low block, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. shifting into 4-3-2, 4-4-1 and 4-5-0 shapes as necessary based on the extent of the away side’s positioning. They still fouled a bit, but remained largely compact. LAFC struggled to get on the ball in advanced central areas. At the expense of attacking threat, they totally nullified the visitors, who were forced into potshots and long crosses.
Playing with ten men for most of the game, Seattle Sounders were forced into a very deep stance.
Seattle made the most of LAFC’s center-backs operating as insurance. By having all the midfielders and forwards drop back into two deep compact blocks, they maintained a one man advantage in the final third. Combined with good organization, they restricted space extremely well.
LAFC take initiative in second half
LAFC started the second half differently, with clear instructions to forego buildup. They looked to force more turnovers and start attacks quickly. With this newfound speed and verticality, the away side created their best chances of the game right after half-time. They even missed an open goal.
Up a man, Bradley clearly wanted his team to take more risks. Midfielder Lee Nguyen came on for defender Tristan Blackmon. The fullbacks bombed forward high and wide in possession. Wingers Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela pushed into the box once the ball reached the final third. The midfield three waited outside the box for loose balls.
LAFC dominated possession, but lacked interplay up front against a deep defensive opponent.
The Sounders, however, grew into the game after a shaky start to the half. They did a great job tracking the runs of the fullbacks, and marshalled the ball around their compact block. They even toned down the physicality a touch, and gave away far fewer silly fouls. Their biggest advantage was still numerically, as the center-backs sat back and added nothing but insurance in possession.
The Sounders conceded few serious chances in the last hour of the game, and looked fairly comfortable chasing the best team in the MLS around. Of course, the finish to the game was almost as eventful as the beginning, as both sides almost scored and had penalty shouts. Winger Rossi would have been in behind if Kevin Leerdam had not fouled him and been sent off. But the reality is that for large swathes of the game, Seattle’s ten men defended without conceding big chances. The shot count greatly favored the visitors 21-5, but Seattle’s defenders ensured only a handful were truly threatening. LAFC only had five shots on target to Seattle’s three.
The clear takeaway from this game is that Seattle can absorb a lot of pressure defensively. After starting recklessly, Brian Schmetzer’s men put in an astute defensive performance against the league’s best attack.
Consider this: despite missing an open goal and playing well over an hour with a man advantage, LAFC struggled to come up with anything in the final third. While their players were largely impressive in buildup during the opening period, they created little of note outside a short period to start the second half against ten men. The attack threatened to get going, but never really did.
One cannot give enough praise to Seattle’s defensive performance. The players shut down passing lanes, relentlessly chased their assignments, and shifted from side to side to deal with switches of play. LAFC are a dominant team; clinching a draw here took a great defensive effort from the Sounders and bodes well for the future. Similarly, LAFC have little reason to worry: few teams in the MLS can defend with Seattle’s diligence.
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